Connect with us

Space

Cygnus Spacecraft Departs the Space Station: Here's the Awesome Science It's Doing

Space.com

Published

on

The Orbital ATK Cygnus cargo ship S.S. Gene Cernan is released from the International Space Station via robotic arm in this photo by NASA astronaut Randy Bresnik taken during release operations on Dec. 6, 2017. The Cygnus delivered 7,700 lbs. (3,500 kilograms) of supplies to the station in November.

HOUSTON — Orbital ATK’s Cygnus spacecraft departed the International Space Station (ISS) this morning (Dec. 6), on its way to do some bonus science before burning up in Earth’s atmosphere after a successful cargo delivery mission.

Space.com learned about the spacecraft’s possibilities as a science vessel (it will release 14 minisatellites after leaving the station) and potential future journey to deep space at a talk given by Frank DeMauro, vice president and general manager of Orbital ATK’s Advanced Programs Division, here at SpaceCom 2017 yesterday (Dec. 5).

This Cygnus vehicle, called the S.S. Gene Cernan in honor of the late NASA astronaut who was the last person to walk on the moon, delivered more than 7,700 lbs. (3,500 kilograms) of cargo to the station in November, including about 1,900 lbs. (860 kg) of science experiments and tech demonstrations — plus some Thanksgiving dinner and other holiday goodies. Before Cygnus’ departure today at 8:11 a.m. EST (1311 GMT), the space station crew filled it with trash that will burn up in Earth’s atmosphere. [In Photos: Orbital ATK’s OA-8 Cygnus Launch to Space Station]

The spacecraft detached from the station yesterday morning but stayed connected to the station’s robotic arm until its release today. Next, the spacecraft will fly into a higher orbit than the space station and release small, experimental satellites called cubesats.

“This mission, we’re actually flying 14 cubesats; that’s by far more than we’ve done before,” DeMauro said during the SpaceCom presentation. “We’ll depart the ISS early in the morning, and then throughout the day, at three discrete times, we’ll actually deploy three different bunches of the cubesats. That’s important for the cubesat industry; we’ve done deployments below the ISS,” but by releasing them higher up, “you can give those cubesats a lot more life.” 

Cygnus has run other experiments after leaving the space station in the past, DeMauro added; for instance, Orbital ATK has administered spacecraft fire safety experiments to test how things burn in space far from any vulnerable crew. On this mission, the space station crew also got to make use of the extra space Cygnus provided by setting up and running an experiment while it was berthed.

The spacecraft won’t stay in orbit for long after releasing the cubesats, but DeMauro said the company is considering how to let Cygnus linger and do science long after its official mission is complete.

“One thing we’re looking at is adding more capability to Cygnus, like a free-fire capability,” DeMauro said. “We’ll fly away from the ISS. We’ll actually fly around for quite some time — up to a year or so on orbit, as opposed to just a couple of weeks after we leave the ISS.

“That affords customers the opportunity to get time and space on a mission where the primary mission has been completed, probably offering reduced cost to those customers so they can fly their sensors or other experiments on orbit and be able to get valuable data for a long period of time,” he added. Companies could even use Cygnus to take an experiment away from the space station, run it and bring it back to the station for the crew to analyze, he said. And spots on the outside of the spacecraft could provide space to install additional sensors and experiments.

A Cygnus spacecraft acts as Orion’s habitat module near the moon.

Credit: Orbital ATK

As part of NASA’s NextSTEP-2 program, Orbital ATK is also developing a spacecraft based on Cygnus that would journey much farther — even up into orbit near the moon.

“Cygnus as designed is designed for low Earth orbit operations, including cargo,” DeMauro told Space.com. “But a lot of the fundamental building blocks come from our geosynchronous satellite product line, which typically is high-radiation and can actually have a lot longer life.

“We’re looking at how to take a derivative of the Cygnus vehicle and be able to use it out in cislunar space, either as a habitat for the Orion crew once they’re out there, as a logistics module to bring supplies back and forth [or] a scientific test bed to house scientific experiments,” he added.

To get Cygnus fit for more distant flight, engineers would have to add more radiation shielding, as well as shielding for the spacecraft’s avionics systems to help them last longer, DeMauro said. Plus, that crucial machinery would probably have to move; right now, it’s in a spot where it’d be impossible for the crew to reach to swap out a failed unit, he said.

“We think that Cygnus, as it’s built right now, with some modifications that we’re working on now through the NextSTEP program, can be an actual affordable cislunar habitat … and that we can get up there a little bit faster than waiting for the whole program with [NASA’s] Deep Space Gateway,” DeMauro said.

Email Sarah Lewin at slewin@space.com or follow her @SarahExplains. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Google+. Original article on Space.com

Space.com is the premier source of space exploration, innovation and astronomy news, chronicling (and celebrating) humanity's ongoing expansion across the final frontier. We transport our visitors across the solar system and beyond through accessible, comprehensive coverage of the latest news and discoveries. For us, exploring space is as much about the journey as it is the destination. So from skywatching guides and stunning photos of the night sky to rocket launches and breaking news of robotic probes visiting other planets, at Space.com you’ll find something amazing every day.

Advertisement

Space

In Pictures: Sierra Nevada's Dream Chaser Aces Glide Test Flight

Space.com

Published

on

Free-Flying

Credit: NASA

The glide test success indicates the program is one step closer to orbital exercises.

Ready for Testing

Ready for Testing

Credit: Ken Ulbrich/NASA

The spacecraft was moved from inside the facility by a transport to prepare for the test.

Gear in Place

Gear in Place

Credit: Ken Ulbrich/NASA

Apparatus attached atop the Dream Chaser enabled a helicopter to raise the craft for the release and flight.

Up and Away

Up and Away

Credit: Ken Ulbrich/NASA

The full scale Dream Chaser craft, shown here lifted by a Columbia Helicopters Model 234-UT Chinook helicopter, flew a pre-planned flight path after its release.

Safe and Secure

Safe and Secure

Credit: Ken Ulbrich/NASA

The successful test flight ended at Edwards Air Force Base on Runway 22L.

Big Plans

Big Plans

Credit: Ken Ulbrich/NASA

The first trip to the International Space Station for the Dream Chaser is planned for 2020.

Practicing for the Big Journey

Practicing for the Big Journey

Credit: Ken Ulbrich/NASA

The Dream Chaser is scheduled for at least six missions under NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services 2 contract, beginning as early as 2020.

Proof

Proof

Credit: NASA

This atmosphere Free-Flight test verified the craft has the design and capabilities to return and land safely.

Free-Flight

Free-Flight

Credit: NASA

Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Dream Chaser has displayed the ability to provide safe and reliable orbital flight, according to corporate vice president, Mark Sirangelo.

Approaching the Runway

Approaching the Runway

Credit: NASA

With NASA on board, Sierra Nevada Corporation will analyze the test data.

Wheels Down

Wheels Down

Credit: Ken Ulbrich/NASA

Using results from this Free-Flight test, engineers can perfect the aerodynamics of the Dream Chaser, making it even safer for future flights.

Catching Some Air

Catching Some Air

Credit: Ken Ulbrich/NASA

As the full-scale test vehicle is raised by the Chinook helicopter on Nov. 13, 2017, Sierra Nevada Corporation looks to the future of this spacecraft.

Rollout

Rollout

Credit: Ken Ulbrich/NASA

The Dream Chaser spacecraft is readied for the atmospheric Free-Flight test.

Suspended Suspense

Suspended Suspense

Credit: Ken Ulbrich/NASA

Rising high into the atmosphere, the Dream Chaser begins the atmospheric Free-Flight test.

Teamwork

Teamwork

Credit: Ken Ulbrich/NASA

The Flight Crew prepares Sierra Nevada Corporation’s full-scale Dream Chaser test vehicle for the upcoming Free-Flight test.

Last Minute Checks

Last Minute Checks

Credit: Ken Ulbrich/NASA

The Flight Crew for the Dream Chaser spacecraft completes preflight checks before the craft participates in the monumental test.

Future at Hand

Future at Hand

Credit: Ken Ulbrich/NASA

Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Dream Chaser spacecraft looks to be the next phase in NASA’s journey into space.

Continue Reading

Space

Apollo 17 Astronaut Begins Releasing Diary 45 Years After Moon Mission

Space.com

Published

on

Apollo 17 astronaut Harrison Schmitt, seen here during the first of his three moonwalks in December 1972, has begun to release his diary of the last lunar landing mission 45 years later.

Harrison Schmitt went for a walk on Dec. 11, 1972. Forty-five years later, he is almost ready to share his diary of that day.

The last of the twelve NASA astronauts to step foot onto the surface of the moon — and the only geologist to do so — Schmitt was the lunar module pilot on NASA’s Apollo 17 mission, the sixth, last, and as Schmitt puts it, “most recent human visit to the moon.” Now, on the 45th anniversary of his lunar journey, Schmitt is beginning to take the public on a stroll through history, his memories and the findings that came from exploring Taurus Littrow Valley on the moon.

“This project began 45 years ago,” explains Schmitt. “I am gradually getting to the point where the drafting, I think, is good enough that I can let other people share in what my impressions were during the mission, as well as what the whole operation was about.” [The Apollo Moon Landings: How They Worked (Infographic)]

Apollo 17: Diary of the Twelfth Man” quietly debuted as a new section of Schmitt’s website in early November when he uploaded the fourth chapter, “30 Days and Counting.” Although the first through third chapters still remain to be published, Schmitt chose the fourth to begin “because the interval between its online publication date and the launch date coincides with the chapter title,” he wrote in a note to accompanying the post.

On Friday (Dec. 7), 45 years to the day after he lifted off with Apollo 17 commander Eugene Cernan and command module pilot Ronald Evans, Schmitt posted the diary’s fifth chapter, “30 Seconds and Counting!” — an almost 49,000 word account of the Saturn V launch that follows Schmitt and his crewmates from the ground to leaving Earth orbit for the moon.

“[Seven and a half] 7.5 million pounds of thrust would lift us slowly at first and then faster and faster toward orbit on a trail of brilliant flame, not visible to us but splitting open the night for everyone below,” recounts Schmitt. “Pulsing waves of sound and searing streams of light buffeted the bodies and minds of onlookers, bringing spontaneous and unexpected hugs, cries and tears.”

The Apollo 17 launch marked the first time NASA had sent astronauts into space at night.

“Once again, a life-tipped pillar of fire, the Saturn rocket, a massive tribute to boldness and imagination, became a blazing symbol of human potential for greatness. Except for reflected light coming through the small window in front of Gene and another in the boost protective cover over the [crew] hatch, I had only a vague sense of the brilliant flame beneath us,” writes Schmitt.

Schmitt pulls from a wide variety of sources for the content of the diary. Amid his own observations, Schmitt cites from NASA air to ground radio transcripts, public affairs reports and the recollections of others. He has also formatted the journal to help readers keep track of the topics at hand.

“A complication to reading diaries is their instantaneous jump from subject to subject. In addition to the liberal use of endnotes, distinguishing between subjects and sources is aided by the consistent use of different font styles and colors in the text,” Schmitt explains in his preface.

Harrison Schmitt is releasing “Apollo 17: Diary of the Twelfth Man” in chapters on his website.

Credit: NASA

For example, Schmitt turns the text red when discussing anomalies, or problems, during the mission. He uses blue when writing of Earth observations and he uses purple for views about the moon. He reserves turquoise for “probable dialog” between he and his two crewmates, as he can best derive from his memory.

“On the horizon, bands of orange and blue lay below the black of space,” Schmitt writes, describing — in blue text — and captioning a photograph of his first view of Earth from space. “Outside, darkness finally had been broken by a spectacular sunrise that had provided what I described a few minutes later as ‘the biggest rainbow I’d ever seen,’ extending along the entire pre-sunrise horizon.”

“Like childhood’s home, we really see the Earth only as we prepare to leave,” waxes Schmitt.

“It [the diary] is both technical and philosophical, in some aspects,” Schmitt told collectSPACE.

Schmitt, who is now 82, logged a total of 75 hours on the lunar surface, including 22 hours out on three moonwalks. With Cernan’s death in January, Schmitt became the final living member of the Apollo 17 crew (Evans died in 1990).

Although 45 years have already passed for Schmitt to feel ready to prepare and share the diary, he still sees it as a “long-running project” that will not be completed within just the 12-day span of the mission.

“The 45th anniversary seemed like a good time to begin,” he said. “It is going to take a long time still. There is a lot to be said.”

To read “Apollo 17: Diary of the Twelfth Man,” see Harrison Schmitt’s website, americasuncommonsense.com.

Follow collectSPACE.com on Facebook and on Twitter at @collectSPACE. Copyright 2017 collectSPACE.com. All rights reserved.

Continue Reading

Space

Blue Origin Preparing to Resume Test Flights from West Texas

Space.com

Published

on

Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital vehicle lifting off on a test flight in January 2016. An airspace closure noticed published by the FAA Dec. 9 suggests the company is preparing to resume test flights of the vehicle.

WASHINGTON — An airspace closure notice published by the Federal Aviation Administration Dec. 9 suggests Blue Origin is preparing to resume test flights of its New Shepard suborbital vehicle after a hiatus of more than a year.

The Notice to Airman, or NOTAM, published by the FAA on its website Dec. 9 closes airspace above Blue Origin’s test site between Dec. 11 and 14, from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Eastern each day. The closure is to “provide a safe environment for rocket launch and recovery.”

The NOTAM does not give additional details about the planned activities, but does identify Blue Origin as the point of contact regarding the airspace closure.

“Blue Origin has filed a NOTAM for spaceflight operations this week. It will be taken down when our activity is complete,” a company spokesperson said in a statement to SpaceNews. The company declined to provide additional details about those spaceflight operations.

Blue Origin has filed similar NOTAMs in the past in advance of New Shepard test flights. Such notices were originally the only advance notice of those flights, which the company disclosed only after they took place. The company later became more open about New Shepard test flights, proving advance notice of them and even offering live webcasts. [Blue Origin’s New Shepard Launch Abort Test in Pictures]

Blue Origin completed a series of suborbital test flights of New Shepard in October 2016. On that last flight, it successfully performed a test of the vehicle’s in-flight abort system, with the crew capsule rocketing away from the propulsion module and making a parachute landing. Despite expectations that the propulsion module would be damaged or destroyed by the abort motor’s plume, it was able to make a powered vertical landing, similar to four other test flights dating back to November 2015. [How Blue Origin’s Suborbital Rocket Ride Works (Infographic)]

Blue Origin subsequently retired that test vehicle, putting the propulsion module on display at events such as the 33rd Space Symposium in Colorado Springs and the Experimental Aircraft Association’s AirVenture air show in Wisconsin. Along with it, the company displayed a model of the crew capsule, its interior outfitted with six seats to carry space tourists on the suborbital spaceflights the company plans to offer. New Shepard will also be able to fly research payloads, with some experiments flying on the earlier series of test flights.

The company said it was building a new set of propulsion modules and crew capsules. In recent months, company officials said that test flights using the new vehicles would resume before the end of this year.

“We’re looking forward to flying the next tail number of New Shepard by the end of the year,” Ariane Cornell of Blue Origin said in a Sept. 26 panel discussion at the International Astronautical Congress in Adelaide, Australia.

Those future test flights, she said then, would also use a version of the crew capsule that includes the large windows the company has promoted as the largest ever to be flown on a spacecraft. The capsule on the earlier test flights had only the locations of the windows painted on its exterior. “It’s a really important next step,” she said.

Unlike Virgin Galactic, another company that is planning to offer suborbital spaceflights for tourism, Blue Origin has not started selling tickets for New Shepard flights. Company founder Jeff Bezos said at Space Symposium in April that selling tickets, or even setting a price for those tickets, was not a priority at the time.

“We’ll probably start taking down payments and selling tickets when we’re closer to commercial operations,” Bezos said then. “We have a whole test program ahead of us.”

This story was provided by SpaceNews, dedicated to covering all aspects of the space industry.

Continue Reading

Trending